What Does the Bible Really Teach?
A short study by Henry G. Sheppard
What does God say?
You cannot ‘give’ to God. As the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, He already owns everything. Your life — the very beating of your heart — is itself a gift from God. The earth is the Lord’s, and every thing in it, the world, and all who live in it… (Psalm 24:1). Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you: I am God, your God, I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me. I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it (Psalm 50:7-12). ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty (Haggai 2:8). “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” (Romans 11:35). This rhetorical question is given no answer, because the answer is obvious. You cannot give to God with any expectation that God will end up being in debt to you. There is a law of sowing and reaping and there are rewards for good works. But, contrary to the teachings of the prosperity crowd, you cannot act so as to place God in your debt. God created the universe. He sustains it by the word of His power. He doesn’t need your money, and He doesn’t want your money. What God wants is you, and He wants you with a right attitude.
The tithing teachers try to prove that tithing was required by God long before He gave the Law to Moses. In the following section we will consider their favourite passages of Scripture.
Then Melchizadek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything (Genesis 14:18-20). “See,” they say, “tithing was a necessary practice way back in the days of Abraham.” But read the context which, in this case, is the entire chapter. The first thing you find is that the “everything” in question did not belong to Abram. It was the property of other people, including Abram’s nephew, Lot, who had been captured by the armies of several kings. Abram and a small group of his servants had gone to battle against these great armies and — against all reasonable expectations — had won. Melchizadek recognised that God had granted this miraculous victory (v.20). Notice Abram’s statements in verses 22-24. He owned none of the property in question before the battle and, although entitled to the spoils as the victor, he refused to take any of it: “I will accept nothing belonging to you…” (v.23). Abram gave away ten per cent of other people’s stuff, in a representative act of thanksgiving to God on behalf of some people who had been miraculously rescued from a life of slavery. This was a once-only event. It has nothing to do with the now common teaching that you should give ten per cent of your gross weekly income to a group of professional religious leaders. If such people insist that you follow the example of Abram in Genesis 14, you should go to their homes and take ten per cent of their property and give it away.
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “IF God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth” (Genesis 28:20-22). “See,” they say, “tithing was a necessary practice way back in the days of Jacob, long before the Law was given.” But read exactly what Jacob said in Genesis 28:20-22.
1. He made a vow, a promise (and there is no record in the Bible that he ever kept that promise.)
2. It was a conditional promise. Notice the five conditions:
IF God will be with me;
IF God will watch over me;
IF God will give me food to eat;
IF God will give me clothes to wear; and
IF I return safely to my father’s house (which didn’t happen until some twenty years later…), THEN, and only then, can God have 10% of whatever He gives me.
If that is “tithing”, feel free to make a list of everything you want from God and — once you have received it all — start making your once-every-twenty-year payments. In the meantime, on the basis of Genesis 28, you don’t owe your religious leaders a solitary cent.
What was the purpose of tithing in the Old Testament?
There were four tithes in the Old Testament.
1. The people paid a general tithe to the Levites
“I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting” (Numbers 18:21). All the tribes of Israel, except the Levites, had a designated geographical area as their “inheritance”. But the Levites — in return for their work within the nation — received income tax of 10% from the rest of the population. The Levites functioned as:• the Health Inspectors,• the Police,• the Justice Department, and• the Education Department. To put it simply, the Levites were the Public Service in Israel, and they were supported by a system of income tax called “tithes”.
2. The Levites paid a tithe of the general tithe to the priests
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Levites and say to them: ‘When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the Lord’s offering…to Aaron the priest…’” (Numbers 18:25-31). All the priests were Levites, but not all Levites were priests. The priestly caste were descended from Aaron and they had specific responsibilities related to the Temple worship. The second tithe guaranteed the financial security of the priests, and thereby protected the Temple system.
3. The people kept a tithe to pay for their annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem
Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always. But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the Lord your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the Lord will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the Lord your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice (Deuteronomy 14:22-26). The people of Israel were required to assemble three times a year at Jerusalem (as the place chosen by the Lord) for the major feasts. This was meant to be a time of rejoicing and the Lord ensured that everybody had sufficient resources available to enable them to fully enter into the rejoicing by commanding that they set aside 10% of their annual income for that purpose. Notice the next verse (27), “And do not neglect the Levites…” This was a reference to the first tithe. In other words, the third tithe — for the annual feasts — was not to be confused with the separate and distinct general tithe for the Levites.
4. The people paid a tithe for the poor, the orphans and the widows
At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). This tithe went to the poor, the widows and the orphans. In Australia that is called “Social Security”. It was payable once every three years, which equals one-third of a tenth annually. These tithes were not ‘gifts’, they were taxes. The total tithes paid by the Israelites were 23.3% of their total income, about the same as what the average Australian pays today in income tax.
Tax to whom tax is due…
Render to all what is due to them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour (Romans 13:7). As we move into the New Testament, we find that nothing has changed. We still pay taxes to finance the Public Service and the Social Security system.
Bring the whole tithe…
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse,
so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows” (Malachi 3:10).
Here we have the tithing teachers’ favourite verse in the whole Bible. On this verse they hang most of their doctrine. But if we take a close look at the verse, we will find something very interesting. Remember that there were four tithes in Israel under the Old Covenant. Which one is referred to here?
And the priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes, and the Levites shall bring up the tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse (Nehemiah 10:38). [ Note: The word ‘storehouse’ is translated as ‘treasure house’ in the KJV. The Hebrew is the same in both Nehemiah and Malachi, outsair, meaning a treasure or a store house. ] Which of the four tithes is in view in Malachi? The tithe payable by the Levites, not the tithes payable by the people. Malachi is not rebuking the people, he is rebuking the Levites. When our modern day tithing teachers point this verse at the people, they are really pointing at themselves — except that most of them are too ignorant to recognise the fact.
Under a curse…
If you want to understand the book of Malachi, read Malachi 4:4, “Remember the Law of Moses…” That is the whole thrust of Malachi. But we do not live under the Law, we live under the grace provided in Jesus Christ. If you choose to submit yourself to even part of the Law of Moses, you have a problem. For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them” (Galatians 3:10).
If you choose to place yourself under the works of the Law, you are under a curse for the simple reason that you cannot keep the Law of Moses. Your fallen, sinful nature will see to that. The purpose of the Law is to act as our tutor, or “school master”, to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24).
The first Church Council
In the early church, there were those who tried to force the Gentile Christians to live under the Law. A dispute arose which quickly lead to the first ever church council.
And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. And when they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. But certain ones of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed, stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses”. And after they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, “Brethren, listen to me. It is my judgment that we do not trouble these who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood” (Acts 15:1-2, 4-5, 13, 19-20).
The question being answered by this council (v.5) is: Do Christians have to observe the Law of Moses (which, of course, includes tithing)?
What was the answer?
They were given four instructions:
— things contaminated with idols,
— what is strangled, and
Where does tithing come on the list?
Nowhere! The first ever Church Council decided that Christians are NOT required to tithe.
Did Jesus endorse tithing?
“But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others” (Luke 11:42). When Jesus said “these are the things you should have done…”, did He mean that we should tithe? Look at His comment in context. Who was Jesus speaking to? The Pharisees. What was significant about being a Pharisee? They considered themselves to be “separated unto the Law” — that’s what the word ‘Pharisee’ signifies. Paul was a Pharisee. He said of himself that he was blameless before the Law (Philippians 3:3-6). Jesus was saying to a group of people (who prided themselves on keeping the Law perfectly) that they should do their thing without neglecting justice and the love of God. Jesus was not speaking to the disciples, and He was not imposing tithing on them. We are not under the Law, we are under grace.
Which one was justified?
Jesus taught us about two men, one of whom tithed and one of whom did not. “Two men went up into the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer. The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all I get.’ But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:10-14). Which one was justified before God, the tither or the non-tither?
Tithes are ‘Corban’
He was also saying to them, “You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death’; but you say, ‘If a man says to his father, anything of mine you might have been helped by is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’ you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many such things as that” (Mark 7:9-13). If you have money your family needs, but you withhold it from them in order to pay it to the church as ‘tithes’, you are doing exactly what the Pharisees did. You are saying your money is “Corban” and Jesus taught that by doing so you were invalidating the Word of God.
What does the New Testament teach about giving?
We are to agree with God that He owns us, and in keeping with that belief we are to present ourselves to Him.
I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1). Now brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord, begging us with much entreaty for the favour of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord (2 Corinthians 8:1-5).
Your giving must stem from your relationship with the Living God.
Motivation is everything
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16). Most people ignore this verse in the context of giving, but God’s giving has to be the very foundation of our giving.
Notice three things about God’s giving:
1. His motivation was love.
2. In giving His Son, the Father gave of Himself.
3. God’s giving was in response to our need, not our greed — that we should not perish. There is a form of sacrificial giving that God despises:
And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing (1 Corinthians 13:3). God looks on the heart, and He is not impressed by loveless giving. Your motivation is everything.
In response to need
We are to give in response to need, not in response to greed. Christians today are beset by demands that they give ever increasing sums of money to professional church leaders who live in luxury homes, drive the latest cars and jet around the world, while building multi-million dollar, family-controlled empires — all for ‘the glory of God’, of course. Typically, these greedy empire-builders demand that the people tithe to them, with the threat that God will turn the devil loose on their finances if they don’t. The Bible says nothing to encourage giving to the greed of such people. Rather, it teaches that we should respond to genuine need. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales, and lay them at the apostles’ feet; and they would be distributed to each, as any had need (Acts 4:34-35). Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. [ Notice that the genuine prophets predict famine. The modern false prophets in the various Pentecostal churches always predict ‘prosperity’ and ‘revival’. Then they whip the people into a grateful frenzy of enthusiasm before relieving them of huge offerings for the purpose of “supporting their ministry”. ] And this took place in the reign of Claudius. And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea (Acts 11:27-29). They responded to need.
Secretly and humbly
Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honoured by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you (Matthew 6:1-4). We are to give in a secret and humble way.
According to what we have
We are to give according to what we have. For if the readiness [to give] is present, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he does not have (2 Corinthians 8:12). If you have $10 and owe $10 to someone, but rather than pay your debt you give the money to a religious organisation, God does not accept your offering. It is “unacceptable” to Him. Don’t ever give what you do not truly have. And don’t be sucked in by the “give in faith, expecting God to return to you one hundred-fold” manipulative rubbish that is commonly dished up in Pentecostal churches these days. The Bible says clearly that such ‘giving’ is unacceptable to God.
Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). What the Bible is saying here is: Give what you are genuinely happy to give. It is not saying: Give more than you can afford, and then pretend to be happy about it. The closest thing to a formula for giving in the New Testament is found in the words, “…as he has purposed in his heart…” God wants you to give what you want to give, what you are comfortable in giving. If you cannot give it cheerfully, don’t give it at all. God doesn’t want it, and He won’t accept it.
…from every man whose heart moves him…
“Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution" (Exodus 25:2). This offering was for the construction of the tabernacle, the most important thing in the Old Testament. God only wanted contributions from those who were genuinely happy to give them. And in the New Testament, nothing has changed.
Tithing — the curse of the ‘kings’
And (Samuel) said, “This will be the procedure of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots… And he will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards, and give to his officers and to his servants. He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and your donkeys, and use them for his work. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourself will become his servants. Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day” (1 Samuel 8:11-18).
When you submit yourself to the spiritual authority of a man (no matter whether he is called the king, the Grand Pooh Bah, the Fuehrer or the National Superintendent), instead of to God, you will end up:• Paying him tithes,• Being a virtual slave to him, his family and his organisation, and• Having God ignore your prayers. [ God cannot answer you, for you have placed your faith in a man. If He answered your prayers, He would be reinforcing your confidence in the flesh. ]
What does the Bible really teach about tithing?
Tithing has nothing to do with being a Christian. Spiritual abusers have frequently used tithing as a method for squeezing God’s people dry. Don't get fooled again!